Romans: God’s wrath on unrighteousness

We often focus on the fact that God is a God of love and mercy and grace. This is true. God is love. He does love you and He does love me. He loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son to die on the cross for our sins. He has given us His mercy and grace. He has given us the Gospel and has offered salvation to everyone. His love reaches to the coldest and darkest of all hearts. His love reaches to the worst of sinners. It is good to know that God loves us! However, though God is a God of love, He is also a God of wrath. We cannot preach on the love, mercy, and grace of God without also preaching on the wrath of God. God’s wrath is kindled against all sin and unrighteousness. Because God is just and holy and perfect in every way, sin must be dealt with. In this passage, Paul paints a very ugly picture of the unbelieving world. We may not like the picture we see, but we cannot avoid it. It is the Word of God and we must study it and take heed to it no matter how much we may dislike it. The evolutionist will say that man is evolving and we are becoming greater and better. Paul suggests, however, that man is not evolving but devolving. Man is on a downward spiral of sin and filth. Mankind is not getting any better; instead, mankind is getting worse and worse. In this passage we see the decay of man. We see this downward spiral of unrighteousness which literally makes God sick and results in His wrath.

Suppression of the truth. The first stage in man’s downward spiral has to do with intelligence. Romans 1:18-23 says, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.[1]The history of man began with man knowing God. God has revealed Himself to man. “Human history is not the story of a beast that worshiped idols, and then evolved into a man worshiping one God. Human history is just the opposite: man began knowing God, but turned from the truth and rejected God.”[2] How did man know God? They knew God because of what they saw around them. All of creation testifies to the fact that God is real. There is no doubt that there is a God who created all things and because He is the creator, He was, thus, never created but always has been and always will be. We see this in verse 20. The invisible attributes of God are seen in the created world. Yet, though God has clearly revealed Himself to mankind through His creation, man has suppressed the truth. They ignore it. The reason for such suppression of the truth was because man did not want to be accountable to God. Therefore, they block out all knowledge of God from their hearts and minds. It saddens me to think that even in our evangelical circles there are those who also suppress the truth. Instead of taking God’s Word at face value, they attempt to twist the scripture to fit with the culture of our day. They try to marry creation with evolution and in doing so they are also guilty of suppressing the truth. When you start to question God’s Word concerning creation all it leads to is more questions. Those questions turn into a distortion of the truth which leads to a suppression of the truth which ultimately leads to complete denial of the truth. This is the very approach that Satan used in his temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan brought to question what God has said. He attempted to deceive Eve by telling her that God did not really mean what he said. This very thing is taking place today. There are those who will try to read into scripture and change it in order that it may fit with their way of thinking. They do not like what the Bible says so they attempt to explain it away. As Christians, we should take the Bible at face value. We should not try to read between the lines to find some hidden meaning. We should simply believe God’s Word for what it says. It is a dangerous thing to ignore God’s Word. It is a dangerous thing to suppress the truth. When the truth of God is suppressed, man is lead to worship other things other than God. Man was made to worship; therefore, he must worship something. As the truth is suppressed, mankind turns to idolatry. They begin to worship creatures rather than the creator. Ultimately, man is found worshipping himself. Weirsbe writes: “Having held down God’s truth and refusing to acknowledge God’s glory, man was left without a god; and man is so constituted that he must worship something. If he will not worship the true God, he will worship a false god, even if he has to manufacture it himself! This fact about man accounts for his propensity to idolatry. Man exchanged the glory of the true God for substitute gods that he himself made. He exchanged glory for shame, incorruption for corruption, truth for lies.”[3] The reason there are so many different religions today is because of this suppression of the truth. The first step to the downward spiral of unrighteousness is the suppression of the truth, ignoring and questioning God’s Word.

Indulging in immorality. Once man begins to question God’s Word and worship themselves rather than the creator, the next step in this downward cycle is immorality. Notice what Romans 1:24-27 says, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”[4]Apart from the truth there is no morality. The world has become a filthy place. As time goes on, man has become more and more corrupt. The further away we get from God and His Word, the deeper into immorality we sink. This is why we see such immorality rampant in the unbelieving world. The specific sin of homosexuality is noted by Paul as the most corrupt and vile of all sins. When mankind turns away from God and suppresses the truth, this is where it leads. One commentary says, “Romans 1:26–27 contains the clearest teaching in the New Testament on homosexuality. In this section Paul described the practice as “shameful,” “unnatural,” “indecent,” and as a “perversion.” By contrast, the Greco-Roman society of Paul’s day tolerated homosexuality with considerable ease. Among some advocates it was viewed as superior to heterosexuality. Barclay notes that “fourteen out of the first fifteen Roman Emperors were homosexuals.”In Jewish culture, however, it was regarded as an abomination. Barrett comments that “no feature of pagan society filled the Jew with greater loathing than the toleration, or rather admiration, of homosexual practices.” The Old Testament specifically prohibits homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” The penalty for both participants was death (Lev 20:13). In 1 Cor 6:9–10 Paul specifically said that “homosexual offenders” will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” Against this background it is difficult to understand why some contemporary teachers—even some who claim to be biblical—make allowance for a practice clearly condemned in both the Old and the New Testaments. Achtemeier writes that the kind of life Paul described in vv. 26–27 “cannot be understood as an alternative life-style, somehow acceptable to God” but rather as “a sign of one of the forms God’s wrath takes when he allows us free reign to continue in our abuse of creation and in our abuse of one another as creatures.”[5] Today, these sins have become the norm in our society. It is becoming much more widely accepted. Unfortunately, many of those who claim to be believers in Christ have also started to accept what the Bible says is unacceptable. How did we sink so low? How did mankind get to this point? It all started with the suppression of the truth. Even Christians who have suppressed the truth is now falling prey to the ways of the world. Again, it is a dangerous thing to ignore God’s Word. Listen to what the New American Commentary says, “Again it is stated that “God gave them over” (cf. v. 24). God’s anger against sin leads him to withdraw from the sinner who willfully continues in wickedness. The penalty for sin is sin itself with all its inevitable consequences. Because people failed to glorify God and give him thanks, God gave them over “to sexual impurity” (v. 24). Because they exchanged the glory of God for a lie, he gave them over to the “passions that bring dishonor” (v. 26).[6] Think about that. When an individual ignores the drawing power of the Holy Spirit to salvation, he or she is given up by God and given over to sinful practices and the consequences that come with them. In other words, if you continue in sin, God will no longer deal with you. I am a firm believer that the Holy Spirit of God draws all men to Christ. Even for those who do not have as much access to the Gospel as we have today. God has given testimony of Himself through His creation. Yet, the majority of mankind has ignored God’s revelation and they have suppressed the truth. As a result, the Holy Spirit discontinues His drawing to salvation and God gives them over to their sins. This ‘giving up’ or ‘handing over’ of man to his sins is, in fact, an act of God’s wrath. In His wrath on unrighteousness, God hands man over to their sin and its consequences. The shameful immorality that is in our world is a part of God’s wrath on sin. Church, we must not forget the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Too often, we focus on God’s love and mercy without taking a close look at just how sinful we are and how sinful we could be if we suppress the truth of God’s Word. Every single one of us is capable of the vilest and grossest of sins. None of us is above moral failure. We are all susceptible to sin. We must understand that God’s wrath is kindled against sin and sin must be dealt with. Don’t take sin too lightly. Yes, there is forgiveness in Jesus. Yes, Jesus paid the price of sin for us. Yes, those who are born-again are free from the ultimate penalty of sin. Yet, God in His wrath cannot allow sin to go unpunished. Even in the life of the believer, there are consequences for sin. This is a serious matter and it all begins when we ignore and suppress the truth of God’s Word.

Given to a depraved mind. You would think that after God gives man over to his sins that he would realize how terrible his sin is and repent and turn back to God. Sadly, though, this is not the case. Notice Romans 1:28-32, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.[7] Since man was abandon by God because of His sin, he only got worse. Since they would not retain God in their knowledge, they are given over to a debased mind. Basically, this term ‘debased’ or ‘depraved’ means a mind that cannot make right judgments. In other words, the deeper you go in sin the harder it is to get out of it. The further you get away from God, the harder it becomes to make right choices. Ultimately, man does not just sin in open defiance against God, but also encourages others to do the same. They will even applaud those who sin. This is something that has been going on for centuries, but now, in the age of technology, it has become more prevalent today. You do not have to watch television much to see how mankind celebrates sin. We are entertained by sin. This is the ultimate state of depravity. “How far man fell! He began glorifying God but ended exchanging that glory for idols. He began knowing God but ended refusing to keep the knowledge of God in his mind and heart. He began as the highest of God’s creatures, made in the image of God; but he ended lower than the beasts and insects, because he worshiped them as his gods. The verdict? “They are without excuse!” (Rom. 1:20)”[8] Dan Crawford, British missionary to Africa, said: “The heathen are sinning against a flood of light.” [9] Man has willfully and defiantly turned against God. Our only hope is the Gospel. God loves us so much that even in the midst of our terrible sin, He has provided a way of escape. Man is utterly and hopelessly lost, but in Jesus, there is hope.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 1:21–23). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ro 1:18). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ro 1:18). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 1:24–27). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans. The New American Commentary (Vol. 27, pp. 82–83). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans. The New American Commentary (Vol. 27, p. 82). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ro 1:28–32). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ro 1:18). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[9] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ro 1:18). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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